By Winnie Sun
Learn more about Winnie on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor
Rent has long been the biggest expenditure in many people’s budgets — about 30% of a renter’s income has traditionally gone to the landlord. And today that percentage is on the rise.
But as a smart renter will tell you, you don’t need to break the bank to have a roof over your head. Here are six ways to keep money in your pocket if you rent.
1. Get a roommate
Finding one or two roommates is a foolproof way to save on rent and utilities. You might also be able to split other expenses, such as groceries, Internet and cable. That means you may be able to afford a larger and nicer apartment in a better location than if you lived alone. Websites like Roommates.com and Craigslist may help you find a compatible roommate.
2. Find a great location
Location is one of the most important factors in many apartment searches. Choosing a place that’s close to your office or school, as well as a grocery store, will save you time and gas money. The Walk Score app shows you grocery stores, schools, restaurants and coffee shops near any apartment you’re considering.
3. Have your finances in order
Like any other business owner, landlords want to protect their investments — and get paid on time. Having a credit score of 700 or higher and other evidence that you’re financially stable reassures potential landlords that you’ll be a good tenant. This gives you more choice in apartments, and it may allow you to negotiate a lower down payment or rent.
4. Negotiate with your landlord
It helps to know the prices of other rentals in the area when negotiating your rent. If similar apartments nearby are priced more competitively than yours, use this as leverage. Or you can ask your landlord for a discount in exchange for painting and performing minor repairs.
If you plan to live in the same place for a long time, you can also ask your landlord for an extended lease agreement at a lower rent. Most landlords would be happy to have consistent rental income, even if it’s slightly less than they intended to charge. And if you have some money saved up, offer to prepay three months’ rent in exchange for a 5% to 10% discount.
Make sure that any discounts you discuss with your landlord are laid out in writing — and that effective communication can help you a lot when negotiating.
5. Take advantage of technology
Apps and websites — such as PadMapper, Zumper, Naked Apartments, Rad Pad and Zillow — can help you find affordable rentals and avoid real estate agent fees.
Once you have a place, websites such as Freecycle.org and Craigslist let you move in and furnish it on a budget. For instance, when my firm switched offices, we found our movers through Craigslist.
6. Consider renters insurance
Your landlord is responsible for insuring your rental against damage from fire and other disasters, but not your personal property. For that, you need to buy a renters insurance policy. Renters insurance adds an expense to your budget, but it’s reasonably priced, and it can protect you from having to replace all your belongings — which would be a much bigger financial setback than your monthly premium.
Finding a great place to live for a reasonable price can be difficult in some locations, especially big cities like New York and Los Angeles. Fortunately, there are many ways you can save on your rent. And bringing down your housing costs frees you up to put cash toward bigger financial goals, such as saving for a down payment on a home or investing for retirement.